Madhouse: Not recommended

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book review Rob Thurman Cal Leandros 3. MadhouseMadhouse by Rob Thurman

Madhouse is one of those novels that you think has potential when you look at it, but just doesn’t quite meet your expectations. Rob Thurman’s writing style is easy to read and pleasant on the eyes and mind, but unfortunately, this third book about Cal and Nik Leandros is not well-plotted and suffers from an excess of innuendo.

The story is basic: Cal and Nik run a sort of supernatural detective agency in NYC. Nik is a ninja and Cal is a half monster/half human strong-arm. Together they are a pretty powerful pair. When a murderer from the past is reconstituted and begins his murderous rampage anew, they are hired to hunt him down and kill him (he isn’t human, although humans once thought he was). In the meantime, their friend the puck, Robin Goodfellow, is being hunted for a crime he committed nearly 8,000 years ago. Nik and Cal must save their friend and destroy the monster before they end up dead themselves.

Madhouse is mostly action sequences punctuated by introspections from Cal Leandros (the story is told entirely from his point of view). Cal suffers as he does his best to be a good person and avoid becoming the monster his genetics says he is. Unfortunately, most of his angst is over events that occurred in the first two books, and while Thurman is able to relate the events that lead to the angst, she fails to re-build the requisite emotional aura. In essence, readers know why Cal Leandros suffers so, but don’t emotionally connect with him in his troubles.

The plot moves quickly. Thurman’s fight scenes are rousing and she is especially good at bringing the reader from a quick laugh down into the depths of despair — like a roller coaster ride. In a way, Madhouse is a strange mixture of The Silence of the Lambs and the Tom Hanks Dragnet movie: It is both funny and deeply disturbing. That makes Madhouse unique, as does Thurman’s attempt to make the supernatural monsters different from their commonly accepted versions. Zombies are a naturally-occurring species, not dead people come back to life, and other angels don’t exist, but a form of life that looks like them does. Hell is just another dimension, not a supernatural place, but it does have its monsters. This scientific take on the existence of monsters is unusual, and I applaud Thurman for that.

But Madhouse is entertaining only if you are the type who goes to movies to watch the fight sequences. Thurman is not attempting to write the next great novel, but even as escapism it failed for me as a reader. For one thing, Thurman never really explains how the monster underworld manages to stay undetected from the human world around it, especially since so many bodies end up lying around. This may have been addressed in the first two books, but it was not in Madhouse.

For another, the plot was overly simple and I got tired of the fight scenes being pretty much the same action with different characters. There is little actual mystery in the story, although it is marketed as a mystery. The villain is known from the start, and other than Cal Leandros’ internal musings, the rest of the plot is fight scenes and characters teasing one another.

Finally, I did not enjoy the crude humor of Robin Goodfellow (there are only so many times an author can make the same joke before it gets tiresome) and there was rampant cursing and swearing, which makes sense for the life that Nik and Cal live, but which could have been less common and still been as realistic.

I thought Madhouse was merely okay. It is funny in parts, and it has lots of action, but the repetitiveness of the fights, the plot holes, and the need to have read the previous novels (the first of which is reviewed above) makes Madhouse a novel that I don’t recommend reading.

FanLit thanks John Ottinger III from Grasping for the Wind for contributing this guest review.


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JOHN OTTINGER III, a guest contributor to FanLit, runs the Science Fiction / Fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews, and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

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